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The Unexamined Life: Shoftim

Shoftim: Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9


In the middle of this week’s Torah portion is one of the pithiest yet most powerful verses: “Tamim tih’yeh im YHVH Eloheicha – Be whole with the Eternal One your God.” [Deut. 18:13]

We have noted elsewhere—from the teachings of the Jewish Mystics—that YHVH (the Eternal) is a four-letter unpronounceable word that points to the formless, unmanifest nothingness of the transcendent aspect of Divine Being. Additionally, the word Elohim (God) represents the manifest everything-ness of the indwelling Presence of Being expressing as this expanding ever-changing Universe. It is interesting to note thatElohim has the same Gematria (is numerically equivalent) to the wordHaTeva translated as: “the natural world,” or “that which is to be shaped.” [M. Jastrow; Dictionary of Targumim, p.519]

A different pointer from the mystical Zohar (Book of Splendor) defines Divine Being-ness as that which both “memaleh kol almin, sovev kol almin – fills all worlds, [and] surrounds all worlds.” [Zohar III:225a] It surrounds (i.e. transcends) all Creation, and—at the same time—fills (i.e. permeates) all Creation, through and through; and that, therefore, includes you too. The word Eloheicha is composed of Elohim and the suffix cha, meaning “you.” Eloheicha can be read as: “the Divine Presence expressing as you.”

This verse can be understood to affirm: “Be whole knowing that YHVH is the Divine Presence expressing as you.” This knowing the Torah is pointing to, is not a knowing of the mind, not of the intellect. This is soul-knowing, a wordless, absolute, total knowing that obliterates any previous false identification. Until we know that our very being is no other than that of the One Being, we remain fragmented. In identifying with the false sense of self we call “me,” a separation is artificially inserted within the unfolding of experience. This false sense of self is an unexamined mechanism by which the mind falsely claims authorship of experience.

Though the Divine Presence is that which is experiencing Itself in every lived moment (memaleh kol almin,) the mind—which, always looking for objects, cannot see/experience the Ultimate Subject that is the true seer/experiencer—decides there is no-one there and takes over, falsely claiming itself to be the seer/experiencer by inserting the thought “I/me/mine” into the experience. In doing so, it introduces a dualism, a fragmentation when, in truth, there is none.

To “be whole” again, requires a two-fold practice. The first is to examine this mechanism that creates the illusion of our separate sense of self—identified as it is with the body, the mind, desires and emotions—and question that which we have always thought was real, in order to break free from the delusion that hides the truth. The second could be summed up as “fake it until you know it.” The greatest sages have often spent years retraining themselves moment to moment to remember that “YHVH is the Divine Presence expressing as you,” by repeating mantras such as: “Who Am I?” or “What is Aware right now?”, until their “I/me” dissolved and they knew themselves to be whole/one with the Eternal.

In Torah, the letter tav, the first letter of the word “tamim – whole” is enlarged. It points to a wholeness that transmutes our identification with the small separate false self into the realization of our infinite True Self. May all our spiritual journeys be journeys toward such Wholeness.